How Peace and Security Funders Punch Above Their Weight in a Dangerous World

The 2016 presidential race has lacked policy substance on many fronts, but nowhere is that more the case than with regard to meaningful foreign policy debate. Major international security issues confront the global community—North Korea is advancing its nuclear weapons program; tensions between the United States and Russia run high; and the civil war in Syria continues to destabilize the entire Middle East—yet none of the three have received much attention on the campaign trail.

Foreign policy generally falls far behind domestic concerns when voters are asked to name the most important issues facing the country. Even in the last three elections, when fears of terrorism and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were central, domestic issues trumped foreign policy ones. From what little we’ve heard thus far, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s ideas for how to get to a more peaceful, thriving, and equitable future could not be more disparate, but as we move toward the general election, it appears that personal attacks will define the campaign more than substantive discussion.

This is a missed opportunity, since the president wields enormous power in foreign policy decision making, but the truth of the matter is that professional foreign service officers and experienced global experts also play an outsized role. And while many of those individuals are government employees, there is a robust community of non-governmental organizations making an impact on a global scale. Often overlooked, these experts will continue to play a critical role regardless of who sits in the White House next year.

A first-of-its-kind index from the Peace and Security Funders Group (PSFG) and the Foundation Center found that while conflict, national security and peace garner less than 1 percent of total global philanthropic dollars, the groups involved are punching well above their weight. The foundations and philanthropists dedicated to building a safer, more peaceful, and increasingly prosperous global future are making an impact in every region of the globe. And they’re doing it in dozens of different ways, employing thoughtful strategies and tactics.

The Peace and Security Funding Index tracks how much money is given by private foundations to peace and security efforts, including grants to prevent and mitigate conflict, to resolve conflict, and to build or rebuild stable, resilient, and peaceful societies post-conflict. The latest data available, from 2013, finds that 288 foundations made nearly 2,000 grants, totaling approximately $283 million in funding, ranging from a thousand-dollar grant for grassroots activism to millions of dollars for research into new technologies.

So, what about impact? The index finds that peace and security funders made an outsized impact in a number of key areas, including preventing atrocities in several African countries, peacebuilding on the Korean Peninsula and in Colombia, and supporting the Iran nuclear deal, where sustained and savvy grantmaking paved the way for a historic nonproliferation agreement.

The index also finds that you don’t have to be a billionaire to make a difference on global peace and security. Smaller foundations support work in critical but comparatively underfunded areas, such as cyber security, stopping nuclear terrorism, or preventing mass atrocities. There are also opportunities for funders who are investing in similar areas to collaborate to scale a project—all they need is to know that their potential partners are out there. In that sense, the Funding Index is as much a network map as it is a report.

Issue areas like cyber security or space policy may be esoteric, but the concept of weaponizing space is already something major global powers are discussing and cyber attacks are increasingly shaping global commerce and international relations. We may not all be nuclear physicists or tech geniuses, but peace and security issues affect us all one way or another, sooner or later. For example, cyber conflict is extraordinarily relevant to anyone with a digital footprint, whether you’re a large corporation or a single individual. It is peace and security funders like the Hewlett Foundation who are making substantial investments in the cyber world.

Regardless of who wins this election, one thing we can count on is that peace and security funders will continue to create, support and implement strategies aimed at making the world a little bit safer for all of us.

Alexandra I. Toma is the Executive Director of the Peace and Security Funders Group.